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I shot Saint-Exupéry down
March 17, 2008 9:41 AM   Subscribe

I shot his plane down. First his fighter plane was just lost under unknown circumstances during WWII. People speculated on a possible suicide of the writer. Then his golden armband was found by a fisherman in the sea. Then the plane of well known french writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was found in the mediteranean. Now 88 year old journalist Horst Rippert, who was a fighter pilot during WWII, admits that he shot down Saint-Exupéry and that he regretted this his whole life.
posted by jouke (36 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
an identity bracelet engraved with the name of Saint-Exupéry's wife, Consuelo, and that of his publishers, Reynal & Hitchcock,

That's a pretty good relationship with your publisher, there, I'd say.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:53 AM on March 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


argh, I failed to correct armband -> bracelet
posted by jouke at 9:57 AM on March 17, 2008


Although, like any one person's experience, it's drowned in the sea of tragedy that is a world war, I can imagine how the guilt must have been heart-wrenching for Rippert. It's bad enough to live with having killed one of his favourite authors, and one whose work had contributed to starting his life as a fighter pilot. But once you start questioning who of your enemies you would shoot down and who you would spare - especially in hindsight, knowing it was all pointless anyway - it must have made the burden of his kills that much heavier to bear.
posted by Drexen at 10:01 AM on March 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


"I did not target a man I knew. I fired at an enemy aircraft which was shot down. "

That happens in war. Not exactly a mystery.
posted by monospace at 10:01 AM on March 17, 2008


and that he regretted this his whole life.

Actually he's only regretted it since 2004, when he found out who's plane he shot down. Before that he had no way of knowing.
posted by tkolar at 10:24 AM on March 17, 2008


I have my publisher on my armband. Right under my parents' name sit says "Blogger."
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:27 AM on March 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


and that he regretted this his whole life.

Actually he's only regretted it since 2004, when he found out who's plane he shot down. Before that he had no way of knowing.


I'm guessing that his regret for killing a man did not begin on the day he found out that man's name.
posted by tristeza at 10:36 AM on March 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


"I did not target a man I knew. I fired at an enemy aircraft which was shot down. There it is," said Mr Rippert, who appeared inconsolable at having killed Saint-Exupéry. "His works inspired many among us to become aviators," he added.

What was it that they say about meeting Buddha on the road?
posted by acb at 10:46 AM on March 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Dude was flying in a P-38!? During the War? Sadness? Yes. Regret? No.
posted by basicchannel at 10:50 AM on March 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


actually, it was an unarmed reconaissance version of the p-38. thanks for the post jouke.
posted by aquanaut at 11:02 AM on March 17, 2008


I shot the Saint-Exupéry, but I did not know it was Saint-Exupéry
I shot the Saint-Exupéry, but I did not know it was Saint-Exupéry

All around in my home town
They're trying to track me down
They say they want to bring me in guilty
For the killing of Saint-Exupéry
For the life of Saint-Exupéry (but I say)

I shot Saint-Exupéry, but I swear it was in self-defense
I shot Saint-Exupéry, and they say it is a capitol offense
posted by three blind mice at 11:02 AM on March 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Apparently a large minority of conscripted infantrymen in the earlier 20th century wars fired wide rather than try to kill someone. That is not something a fighter pilot can really do with any hope of survival.

I say "earlier 20th century wars" because I understand that after WWII when this became known Western armies improved their basic training so as to increase the propensity of the average soldier to kill without thought.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:15 AM on March 17, 2008


So sad. Everything else being what it is, that is a tragic, heartbreaking thing to carry around.
posted by -t at 11:47 AM on March 17, 2008


.
posted by SteelyDuran at 11:55 AM on March 17, 2008


Wow, this is big news. It's even more amazing 1) the German pilot is still alive 2) he was a fan of Saint-Exupéry before he shot him down. The question that remains unasked, how can he prove he did it and not just make things up or mis-remember in old age - false memories have been a problem of late (like the "Jewish" girl who lived with wolves chased by Nazis).

BTW although Saint-Exupéry is best known for The Little Prince, I highly recommend Wind, Sand and Stars, it's a different type of book but better IMO. Some books have a few profundities, this one has them on a per-page basis. And it's a great adventure tale. It's probably the book the German pilot had in mind, often thought of as the best book about flying ever written.
posted by stbalbach at 12:00 PM on March 17, 2008


> I highly recommend Wind, Sand and Stars, it's a different type of book but better IMO.

It's absolutely a delightful book, my favorite of all of his writings -- a book I've read and re-read, and every time it's like a whole new universe. I've tracked down as much as I can that he has written, and I love it all -- but Wind, Sand and Stars is continuously inspiring and life-altering. Every time I open the cover, it's like looking into a magical box of wonderful treasure.
posted by SteelyDuran at 12:09 PM on March 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


You can read The Little Prince online.
posted by Citizen Premier at 12:41 PM on March 17, 2008


I'd say he knew about it before 2004, since the article states, when the historian called him, "He replied straight away: 'You can stop searching, it was I who shot down Exupéry'." Although later he says, "I did not see the pilot and even so, it would have been impossible for me to tell that it was Saint-Exupéry.", so I'm not exactly sure how he knew it, or when he first learned it.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 12:46 PM on March 17, 2008


Well, presumably people knew - if not necessarily right after, for propaganda reasons, for several decades at least - that Saint-Exupery had been flying a reconnaissance mission to yea area at yea time, in yea plane ... Rippert probably had a darn good idea that he was the man who pulled the trigger.
posted by bettafish at 12:56 PM on March 17, 2008


The Luftwaffe would have kept very detailed records about every engagement - where and when, shots fired, hits, damage inflicted/shoot downs. Knowing where and when Saint-Exupéry was shot down, it would be a simple matter to check this against the Luftwaffe records.
A friend of the family in South Africa was a Hawker Typhoon (ground-attack plane) pilot during the war, and when I was young he showed me his logbook, which recorded all of this information. It was amazing to me that this gentle, genial professor had actually done these things, strafed trains and convoys, and had probably killed many people with cannon and rocket fire.
posted by Flashman at 1:23 PM on March 17, 2008


The grown-ups are certainly altogether extraordinary.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:29 PM on March 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm not exactly sure how he knew it, or when he first learned it.

It wouldn't have been that difficult. Saint-Exupéry was known to have disappeared while flying a reconnaissance mission in a p-38 on 31st July 1944, not far from Marseilles. His German fan only would've had to read about the author's disappearance to realise what he had done.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:38 PM on March 17, 2008


actually, it was an unarmed reconaissance version of the p-38. thanks for the post jouke.
posted by aquanaut at 11:02 AM on March 17 [+] [!]


The P-38 is pretty strikingly an American military aircraft and reconaissance is one of those military functions (alongside, say, killing Germans).

He acted in accordance with his job.
posted by basicchannel at 2:07 PM on March 17, 2008


How sad.
posted by dazed_one at 2:40 PM on March 17, 2008


He was flying a Lockheed F5, which was designed to photograph Germans (so others could kill them later I suppose, but a pilot like Rippert would have known what it was despite its being a modified P-38). When it was found, it was reported that it showed no signs of battle damage. There are no Luftwaffe records showing that any Luftwaffe pilot claimed such a downing on that day in that location, let alone that Rippert made a claim. It's discussed here.
posted by GeckoDundee at 4:39 PM on March 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


"He who has gone, so we but cherish his memory, abides with us, more potent, nay, more present than the living man."
posted by bwg at 5:38 PM on March 17, 2008


The German pilot should not feel too badly, St.-E knew what he was getting into when he joined up to fight the Nazis. Good to know that the hints of suicide alluded to in some biographies might be finally put to rest.

After all, "Of what worth are convictions that bring not suffering?"
posted by absalom at 6:10 PM on March 17, 2008


"Of what worth are convictions that bring not suffering?"

There are no convictions that don't bring suffering.
posted by tkolar at 9:00 PM on March 17, 2008


"Bit by bit, nevertheless, it comes over us that we shall never again hear the laughter of our friend, that this one garden is forever locked against us. And at that moment begins our true mourning, which, though it may not be rending, is yet a little bitter. For nothing, in truth, can replace that companion. Old friends cannot be created out of hand. Nothing can match the treasure of common memories, of trials endured together, of quarrels and reconciliations and generous emotions. It is idle, having planted an acorn in the morning, to expect that afternoon to sit in the shade of the oak.

So life goes on. For years we plant the seed, we feel ourselves rich; and then come other years when time does its work and our plantation is made sparse and thin. One by one, our comrades slip away, deprive us of their shade."

If you've never read "Wind, Sand & Stars" by Exupery, then you should.
posted by thisisdrew at 9:25 PM on March 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


For future reference: Wind, Sand & Stars is the title of the english translation of Terre des Hommes (1939).
posted by jouke at 2:57 AM on March 18, 2008


St.-E knew what he was getting into when he joined up to fight the Nazis.

Oh come on, like he had a choice "this is dangerous I don't think I'll defend my country even though I am one of the few people in France that knows how to fly a plane". Read Flight to Arras which recounts his WWII experiences. It's probably the most beautiful expose on death I've ever read. The thing that makes his death so sad is he survived the worst of it, when the Germans invaded France they shot down most of Frances planes and pilots - St.E survived that period of slaughter, when going up was nearly a suicide mission, and was killed later in the war as things were turning against the Germans.
posted by stbalbach at 8:39 AM on March 18, 2008


I had always wondered what happened to Saint-Exupéry and just assumed I'd never know. After growing up with The Little Prince he was always a sort of hero to me.
posted by batgrlHG at 8:23 PM on March 18, 2008


Indeed batgrl, I had to post this since it was such an unexpected closure.
posted by jouke at 10:06 PM on March 18, 2008


I just received nr my 1939 edition of Terre des Hommes, numéro 876, in the mail. Only 7,50 euro.
Thanks for the advice.
posted by jouke at 9:38 AM on March 20, 2008


I scoured the used bookstores of Charing Cross Road for it this afternoon myself, but eventually had to settle for the Penguin Classics edition at Borders. I'm taking a long plane trip tomorrow, and this will keep me occupied - thanks for the recommendation too.
posted by Flashman at 12:41 PM on March 21, 2008


Whether the german ex-pilot knew that he had shot down Saint-Exupéry or not was not the point of my post.
But this article in Der Spiegel (in German) explains that he always admired St-Ex but only recently found out that it was him who shot him down.

Also the article mentions that the German ex-pilot Horst Rippert is the brother of the erstwhile in Germany very popular fake-Russian singer Ivan Rebroff!
(this tidbit will only make sense to people who were in some contact with German radio and television a few decades ago)
posted by jouke at 4:57 AM on March 23, 2008


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